Expanded air service and additional buying power are drawing Canadians to Southwest Florida, according to a report in the Fort Myers News-Press.
Canadian currency has reached a 12-year high against the U.S. dollar, and is expected to remain relatively robust in coming months.
The paper also reported that air service is expanding. On Dec. 18, Air Canada debuted once-weekly nonstop flights between Montreal and Southwest Florida International Airport. Although just for the winter season, it’s the first scheduled nonstop service between that city and Fort Myers.
All of this bodes well for local tourism and hospitality businesses, including RV parks. After losing late-summer tourism to Hurricane Charley and threats from three other hurricanes, a good winter season is crucial.
“Two years ago, we were paying $1.60 for a U.S. dollar. Now it’s about $1.20,” said David Gormley. He owns Canadian Wholesale Currency Exchange, a south Fort Myers business catering to Canadians who winter here and elsewhere in the Sun Belt. “My clients are buying boats and cars, and upgrading their lifestyles.”
Most of that spending comes from part-time residents, including a strong RVer contingent, rather than tourists.
Typifying that part-time sector, Faith and Al Armstrong of Windsor, Ontario, pulled their new motorhome into the Red Coconut RV Resort in late December. They’ll stay at the Fort Myers Beach campground until mid-February, leave for a cruise for a couple of weeks, and then return until things start thawing out back home.
This extended stay lifestyle means the region gains the economic benefits of Canadian visitors over a longer period of time, although the per-day spending tends to be less than that of groups more likely to use resorts and hotels.
Lee County lodgings welcomed more than 46,000 Canadian tourists in 2003. That’s about 2.3 percent of Lee’s 2 million visitors that year, and up more than 5 percent from 2002. Europeans accounted for more than 8 percent of visitors using commercial lodgings.
Data for snowbirds is harder to track because they own or lease homes just like other residents. But Gormley guessed there are “tens of thousands” of Canadian property owners in an area from Marco Island to Sarasota.